Opus Colorado


There is a new chamber ensemble! Peak Performance Chamber Series
October 31, 2011, 4:19 pm
Filed under: News

I was very pleased to get an e-mail from Matthew Dane who is a fine violist. He and his wife, the flautist,  Christina Jennings, both teach on the music school faculty at CU in Boulder. Together with Amy Cheng, pianist, and Chad Burrow, who plays clarinet, they have formed a new chamber group known as the Peak Performance Chamber Series. I am strongly of the opinion that there can never be too many high-quality musical organizations in the state. I am familiar with all four of these artists, and I have enclosed the links to their website below so that you may become familiar with them. I can promise you that this is an ensemble to be excited about, and I hope that all of you readers will give them a big welcome.

Below, I enclose the press release that I received from Matt Dane in its entirety. Read it, and support them by attending their performances. You will not be disappointed.

http://www.daneviola.com/home.htm
http://www.christinajennings.com/index.php?page=homepage
http://www.chadburrow.com/web/home.aspx
http://www.pmiarts.com/index_files/AmyChen.htm

Press Release – Peak Performance Chamber Series
Contact: Matthew Dane 303-507-3787, matt@daneviola.com

An exciting new chamber music series debuts in Denver this autumn.  Peak Performances Chamber Series announced their opening concert will take place at 4pm, Saturday November 12, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. The concert will feature co-artistic directors Matthew Dane (violist) and Christina Jennings (flutist), joined by Guest Artists Amy Cheng (pianist) and Chad Burrow (clarinetist). 

The program will feature the artists in various trio combinations – a piece written for the players by Edward Knight, a rare performance of Bruch’s “Eight Pieces” in its entirety, an arrangement of Debussy’s orchestral masterpiece “Afternoon of a Faun”, and Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata showcasing the guests.
Burrow and Cheng’s involvement in this inaugural performance has special significance to Dane and Jennings; together in 2003, the four of them launched a chamber ensemble in Oklahoma City, Brightmusic. Burrow and Cheng continue to artistically direct this group, now an established part of that area’s cultural landscape.

The mission of Peak Performances Chamber Series is to provide audiences in the Denver area the opportunity to experience the highest level of chamber music in an intimate, personal setting, played by exceptional musicians from the region and the country. Another focus and passion of the series is to develop and expand audiences, specifically families for whom it is otherwise a challenge to attend concerts. To this end, student musicians will be admitted free to all concerts when accompanied by a paying adult. Also, for a modest fee and with advance reservation, childcare will be available to children age 6 and younger. General admission is $20. Please call 303-507-3787 for more information, or by November 1st to make a childcare reservation.
Peak Performances will present two other concerts in its inaugural year: a string sextet showcase on January 14, 2012, and the Lefthand Canyon Trio on May 19. 2012.

Violist Matthew Dane is well known in this region and beyond as a collaborator, teacher, and performer. Principal violist of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston and member of several chamber ensembles, he was previously tenured faculty at the University of Oklahoma and Editor of the American Viola Society’s Journal.

Flutist Christina Jennings is a past winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition and she has appeared as soloist with over fifty orchestras. On the faculty of the University of Colorado, she also directs the nationally recognized Panoramic Flutist Seminar.

Born in Taiwan, pianist Amy I-Lin Cheng has been described by the New York Concert Review as a pianist whose “control of the keyboard is complete, technique easy and relaxed, with a wide range of touch.” Amy has appeared in recitals at venues such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall, and National Concert Hall in Taipei.

Clarinetist Chad Burrow’s playing has been described as “brilliant technique and tonal beauty mixed with an expressive ferocity.” Formerly Principal clarinetist of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the New Haven Symphony, he is now on the faculty at the University of Michigan and concertizes regularly in the US, Asia, and Europe.



The Evergreen Chamber Orchestra soirée is delightful!

Sunday afternoon, October 30, I had a truly marvelous experience at a recital sponsored by the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra. Really, it was a soirée in the home of Larry and Wanda Beck near the town of Evergreen. I must tell you they built their home with recitals and concerts in mind. There is no question that they are keenly aware of how the arts affect every facet of our lives, and I am also quite sure they are keenly aware that music and the arts are absent now in the schools. Both of the Becks are musicians in the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra. There were perhaps fifty people in the audience that were surrounded by the warm welcome, eclectic style, and great acoustics of their home. This was the way chamber music was intended to be heard: good music with artwork hanging on the walls.

The first work on the program was the Sonata Nr. 1 in A minor for Cello and Piano (harpsichord), by Giovanni Buononcini (1670-1747). I would not be surprised if you are asking yourself who that is, but there is some confusion because of the way he signed his manuscripts. Sometimes, because his middle name was Battista, he simply signed his compositions Giovanni Battista. There is also confusion about the spelling of his last name, and most scholars now agree that instead of spelling it with a U after the B of his last name, the U should be omitted, and his last name spelled Bononcini. I feel fairly confident that this has led many scholars astray. In any case, he was a prolific composer and a very competent cellist who performed in the Chapel of St. Petronio in Bologna. At the age of fifteen he began composing actively, and in 1720 he received an invitation to join the Royal Academy of Music in London where Händel was the director. A bad case of internal politics ensued, and Bononcini went to Paris where he was engaged as a cellist in the court of Louis XV. We know that in 1735 he went to Lisbon, where things did not go well, and he was reduced to poverty. He went to Vienna where he petitioned the young Empress Maria Theresa for a pension, and he died there in 1747. During the course of his life, he was known as an Opera composer, and for anyone interested in Bononcini’s operas, one should consult Lowenberg’s Annals of Opera (1943; 2nd ed., 1955).

Keep in mind that this sonata performed on Sunday afternoon is an early Baroque Sonata, and does not represent the Classical Period sonata made famous by Haydn and Mozart. This work was called a Sonata to indicate that it was not a Cantata (sonata comes from the Italian sonare which means to sound, while cantata comes from the Italian cantare, which means to sing). So, you can see that sonata at the time this work was written was rather a vague term.

This work was marvelously performed by Jim Todd, cello, and Peggy Lyon, piano. It was a fairly brief piece, with a first movement marked Andante, the second marked Allegro, and the third marked Scherzando/Menuetto. The first movement was very warm and lyrical for a Baroque piece; that is to say that it was difficult to divide the long phrases into motivic units. Mr. Todd has a wonderfully warm tone on the cello, and I must say that the piano – remember, think harpsichord – seemed to be much more than the usual continuo of the Baroque period. It was also quite evident that these two individuals have performed together before. Their phrasing and dynamics were done with a definite consideration for each other’s musicianship. They certainly demonstrated that Bononcini should not be an obscure composer. I, for one, would really like to hear this piece performed again.

The second work on the program was an absolutely beautiful Cantilène for Clarinet and Piano, written by the French composer, Louis Cahuzac. Cahuzac, who died in 1960, was one of the first clarinetists to make a career out of playing that instrument in the first part of the 20th century. He made the first recording of Carl Nielsen’s very difficult clarinet concerto, and at age 76, he recorded the Hindemith clarinet concerto with Paul Hindemith conducting. Ted Homan performed on the clarinet in this beautiful work, and again, Peggy Lyon was the pianist. In many ways this work reminded me of Poulenc. It was very transparent and extremely mellifluous, and (and this is not a scholarly word that reviewers are supposed to use) it was pretty. Homan is a fine clarinet player, and he had absolutely no trouble at all producing the kind of sound this composer seems to demand. What do I mean by such a statement is that? French woodwind music from 1910 to perhaps 1940, has always seemed to me to be polished, stylish, and urbane, but never pretentious. I suggest that some of you readers listen to the aforementioned Poulenc, and the French composer, Jacques Ibert, for both of these men wrote woodwind music that is simply not heard enough. And this work by Louis Cahuzac is truly one of those pieces. It was wonderfully performed.

Just before the intermission, a work entitled Three Tangos by Colorado’s own William Hill (remember he is the timpanist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra), was performed. This work was originally scored for two violins and a piano. But this performance was the premier of an arrangement done by Mike Marecak, who is the cellist with the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra. The arrangement was done for two violins and four cellos. The performers were Kathy Thayer, violin, and who is the concertmaster of the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra as well as the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra; Natalie Hill, violin who is also the wife of the composer; Shirley Marecak, Mike Marecak, Stephen Weidner, and Marilyn Hof, cellos. The cellists are all members of the Evergreen chamber orchestra. Right away, it was apparent that Mike Marecak is an arranger whose skill is far above average. As Peggy Lyon, who introduced the ensemble explained, Mr. Marecak did not set out to have the cellos duplicate the piano portion of this work exactly. He simply arranged the work so that it would reflect what the composer wanted by using Mr. Hill’s notes, but keeping the timbre of the cellos intact. I must say that this arrangement was done so skillfully that it sounded as though it was written originally for four cellos and two violins, rather than for piano and two violins.

The first tango was, as tangos go, rather standard and moderately moving forward. It was extremely fluid, with an introduction that left me hanging by forcing me to anticipate the tango rhythm. Over the years, I have become accustomed to hearing tangos composed by another Colorado composer (originally from Argentina), Luis Jorge Gonzalez. Mr. Hill composes tangos as skillfully as Mr. Gonzalez, and the operative word in this first tango is fluid. The second tango of the three was considerably slower. It was languid and yet in a very definite tango rhythm. If the word “fluid” defines the first tango, then the second tango can only be defined as “seductive.” It seems odd to describe a tango as shimmering but that is precisely what this tango did. Keep in mind that here were two violins and four cellos playing a slow tango that was languid and extremely sophisticated. The atmosphere that he created was very similar to the recording conducted by Gustavo Dudamel of the opening of Danzon Nr. 2, by the Mexican composer Arturo Marquez. Astonishingly beautiful, but also astonishingly relaxed.

The third tango of this set of three was considerably faster than the first two. It was delightful and energetic, and I would have to use the word turgid. Since this was the first time I’ve heard this suite of three tangos, I cannot be one hundred percent sure of the form, but when the main theme came back it seemed to be in longer note values above a fairly rapidly moving tango rhythm. It was terrific to hear these pieces, and to hear them so very well performed.

Following the intermission, Peggy Lyon performed the Concerto in the Italian Style, BWV 971, by J.S. Bach. This was written specifically and exclusively for a two manual harpsichord because it enabled the player to explore many dynamic levels which were unavailable to keyboard players other than organists. Bach’s continual exploration of the potentialities of the harpsichord certainly lead to an increased popularity of the instrument, and encouraged manufacturers to try to develop an instrument which was capable of varied dynamics. I think that it is a shame that he never lived long enough to play a forte piano, for I am sure that he would have been quite pleased. I might add that this is the first keyboard work for harpsichord where Bach indicated specific dynamics. In the keyboard partitas and suites, and in the Preludes and Fugues, any dynamic markings that are seen today were not indicated by Bach, but by various editors.

This particular work is by no means a reduction of a full keyboard concerto with orchestra. However, Bach does re-create the elements of concerto style in miniature, and most certainly captures the principal of dialogue and exchange between continuo and ripieno that were typical of the Baroque concerto. There are two fairly lively movements which enclose a central slow movement. Only the slow movement contains the expected ornamentation of the melodic line, and the last movement with its remarkable vitality, contains augmentation of the theme, diminution, inversion, and contrary motion. In short, it contains everything one would expect from the greatest master of counterpoint.

Ms. Lyon’s performance of this work was excellent; however, a little more assertiveness and vigorousness would have been welcome. But make no mistake; this was a good performance of a difficult piece, even though Bach himself said that it was not to be used for the advancement of technical facility, but for the enjoyment of the music. There is no question that Peggy Lyon allowed all of those present to enjoy this work. In the Andante central movement, she revealed Bach in some of his most lyrical moments with the recitatives and subtle syncopation.

The final work on the program was a three movement suite by Richard Rodney Bennett, entitled Summer Music. Bennett is an English composer, born in 1936, who has received many Academy Awards nominations for his film scores. He has also distinguished himself as a jazz composer and a composer for television. His studies with Pierre Boulez exposed him to 12 tone music, but he certainly has developed his own compositional style that has emphasized tonally centered music.

Summer Music was originally written for piano and flute, but Sunday afternoon’s performance was done by Gregory Dufford performing on the clarinet, with Peggy Lyon, piano. Gregory Dufford is such a fine clarinet player that it is difficult to imagine this piece on the flute. His tone was warm and he is an extremely sensitive musician. Peggy Lyon truly excelled, and I point out that the piano and clarinet are equal partners. Again, this work reminded me of the woodwind music that came from Europe, and particularly France (even though Bennett is from England), from 1922 to 1940. Considering his total output, then it certainly has a very eclectic style, but this work is very satisfying because of its refinement and transparency. This is another work that I have never heard before, and there seemed to be a small amount of Aaron Copland in its sound. Without overstating its mood, there is no question that the way it was performed on Sunday afternoon by Dufford and Lyon, summer, with its long afternoons, was present in my mind.

This recital (and I use that word rather than concert) was intimate in the way a large concert hall could not be. Larry and Wanda Beck, who opened their home, are to be commended, because it is clear that this is a fine way to support music and the arts. It reminded me very much of what I have read concerning the “Schubertiads,” where Franz Schubert, along with his fellow musicians, would present chamber music in the afternoons. It also brought to mind a salon that my wife and I visited in Prague, where Chopin had performed for roughly sixty music lovers. In their own way, the Becks are reinvigorating music at a time when it has disappeared from the schools, and a time when parents allow their children to spend endless hours in front of the television set without encouraging them to read, let alone to discover music. And because of that, the American League of Orchestras proselytizes the need for orchestras to change their “product.”(?) One more time, I ask the question, “When did the art of music become “product?””

We all need to think about that.



Mozart plus Saless and Morgan: Spellbinding

Friday evening, October 28, I attended a concert at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral on 14th Avenue and Washington Street. This is one concert that I had been looking forward to, for it was a joint venture between two very exciting music organizations in the state, if not the entire Rocky Mountain region. It was a combined concert between the Ars Nova Singers, conducted by Thomas Edward Morgan, and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Bahman Saless. The main event of this concert was the Mozart Requiem, which as everyone knows, is one of the Requiem Masses of all time. The Mozart Requiem was sung after the intermission, but before the intermission were two absolute gems: the Concerto for Strings in D minor, RV 127, by Antonio Vivaldi, and the Cantique de Jean Racine, by Gabriel Fauré.

As Maestro Bahman Saless explained to the audience, the Vivaldi and Fauré are miniatures, and were chosen because they are small pieces, and would give enough time for the Mozart Requiem to be performed after the intermission.

I referred to the Vivaldi, above, as a gem, and believe me, it is. I will quote from the excellent program notes:

“Of the literally hundreds of concertos that Vivaldi wrote, approximately forty are for the entire string orchestra rather than for any particular solo instrument. Of these so-called ripieno concertos, there are twelve collected in one manuscript that resides at the Paris Conservatoire library. Although Vivaldi was known to have French patrons, most notably the French ambassador to Venice, the genesis of this collection and its connection to Paris remain unclear.

“… Its three brief movements follow the standard Italianate Concerto format of fast-slow-fast, with lively, repetitive figuration in the outer movements and a small moment of rhapsodizing for the first violin in between. What continues to amaze is Vivaldi’s ability to conjure endless variety and freshness within the briefest of forms and with the slightest of materials.”

Sharp eyed readers will also note the number, RV 127, which follows the title of the piece. A couple of years ago in another article on Vivaldi, I explained the complex Vivaldi thematic catalogue system. I will quote from my previous article:

“It is interesting to note the RV number. Unlike the D. numbers in Schubert, which stand for Deutsch, the musicologist who put Schubert’s works in chronological order, there are six different methods in identifying Vivaldi’s output. To make a long story short, Mario Rinaldi catalogued much of Vivaldi’s output, but some works were not included or not yet discovered. The Danish musicologist, Peter Ryom began his own catalog of Vivaldi’s works and also included a Concordance with Rinaldi’s catalog. Ryom suggests using RV, wherein the V stands for the German word Verzeichnis or catalogue (not Vivaldi as many suspect) and R can refer to either the Italian publisher Ricordi or to Rinaldi. I pray that you readers will trust me on the following comment, and that is: once the difference between all of the Rs is established then one can continue to the Pincherle Catalog, the Fanna Numbers, or the Malipiero Organization. There is enough information here for a doctoral dissertation.”

The best word that describes the performance of this Vivaldi Concerto is scintillating. The remarkable musicians of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra immersed this work in shimmering light. Maestro Saless found the perfect tempo, and the strings executed the ornamentation, mordents and appoggiaturas, with graceful precision. As a matter of fact, I was quite struck by the superior performance by the concertmaster, Annamaria Karacson, and the entire violin section. But truly, that speaks to the ability of this chamber orchestra: when one performs Vivaldi, the strings have to be accomplished, and everyone in this chamber orchestra is. I wish there was more space in this article, and I would name them all. This was a memorable performance.

When Gabriel Fauré (1845 to 1924) was a young boy in Arlège, France, Henry David Thoreau was in the process of writing Walden. When he died, in 1924, World War I had finally ended a few years earlier, and left a devastated Europe behind. Igor Stravinsky had written The Right of Spring. Fauré spent much of his youth playing the harmonium in a chapel which was next to his father’s school. He became one of the most progressive figures in Europe after studying at the illustrious École Niedermeyer in Paris. Camille Saint-Saëns joined the school as a faculty member in 1861, and Fauré continued his studies with him. The composition heard Friday evening, the Cantique de Jean Racine, was originally written for choir and organ, but in 1905, Fauré orchestrated the organ part for chamber orchestra. It was this version which was sung on Friday evening’s program. Fauré won first prize in 1865 for this composition.

This work was conducted by Maestro Bahman Saless, but Maestro Thomas Morgan, of course, prepared the Ars Nova Singers. And I would like to point out, that Mr. Morgan sang in the choir for this performance. And what a beautiful performance it was! Right away, I noticed that 1) I could understand what the choir was singing because their diction was excellent, and 2) from where I was sitting, the acoustics in St. John’s Cathedral were perfect. I will say that there was a very large audience, so I am sure that affected the acoustics. The result, whether due to the large audience or not, was a splendid performance where the orchestra never overpowered the choir, nor did the choir ever overpower the orchestra. This has to be one of Fauré’s most serene compositions. The music encompasses Racine’s three stanza prayer, “Word of God, one with the most high… Pour on us the fire of thy mighty grace.” Again, the word I used in the first paragraph of this article, “scintillating,” comes to mind. The balance between the orchestra and the choir was perfect, and Fauré’s harmonies never grow old. Maestro Saless gently exposed the phrasing in this tiny masterpiece, and made the hearing of this work absolutely sublime.

Following the intermission, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and the Ars Nova Singers performed Mozart’s Requiem Mass. As most everyone is aware, until recently, there was great mystery surrounding Mozart’s death and the completion of this famous composition. In August of 2009, I wrote an article on the death of Mozart and the Requiem’s completion. At the performance Friday evening, CU musicologist, Peter Alexander, presented a terrific pre-concert lecture on the same subject. Not only that, but in the program notes he included a wonderful chart concerning the original manuscripts of the Requiem, and a Requiem Timeline concerning details of its completion and the “fraud” surrounding the attributation of its composition. These two items in the program notes certainly gave me a new visual perspective of all of the events surrounding the Requiem. I think that everyone realizes, by now, that these events were fictionalized in the movie, “Amadeus.”

This performance truly was one of the best that I have heard of the Mozart Requiem. Why? For many reasons. The soloists, Szilvia Schranz, soprano (and daughter of the Concertmaster – amazing!), Leah Creek, mezzo, Joel Burcham, tenor, and Matthew Singer, bass, were not only all excellent, but their voices seem to be suited for this particular work, and this particular church. I could understand all four of them, because their diction was perfect, and I promise you that is not an exaggeration. In addition, as I have said before, the acoustics can sometimes be very problematical in St. John’s Cathedral. But it is often such a magical place to perform, that everyone is grateful to make use of this facility. But it seemed that on Friday evening, there was no issue with the acoustics at all. Again, I point out that Maestro Thomas Morgan prepared the choir, and Maestro Saless conducted the performance. It truly seemed as though both of these gentlemen knew how to manipulate the acoustics. I say that, because when Maestro Saless indicated sharp cut-offs to the orchestra and the choir, even when the phrase endings lasted only a nano second, everybody stopped in unison (as they are supposed to do) but the effect was magical, because of the echo. And again, perhaps because the audience was so large, that echo never covered up the choir or the chamber orchestra, and it never distorted the soloist’s excellent diction, nor the diction of the choir. It is been a long time since I have heard that in St. John’s Cathedral, so perhaps it was a confluence of all things enchanted, but I think it had more to do with the thorough musicianship of everyone involved.

This was such a fine and well balanced performance that it is very difficult to say, for example, that the Tuba Mirum was better than the Dies Irae, or that the Tenor was better than the Soprano. The entire performance was full of emotion, but never went beyond the style of Mozart. Everything was crystal clear, and the soloists were an equal part of the performance, never overshadowing it, and never timorous.

I must say that I was looking forward for a long time to this concert, because Saless and Morgan are two outstanding musicians. I did not exaggerate above when I said this was one of the best performances of the Mozart Requiem that I have heard. Perhaps due to the surroundings, it had a very intimate feel, but the choir, the orchestra, and the soloists all gave the impression that they were performing for just a select few. It was so very clean and clear that every note (from everyone) could be heard.

The standing ovation was very well deserved, and judging by the look on the faces of all the performers, it was clear they had given their best and found it very rewarding, as did the audience.



Aviram Reichert and the Colorado Chamber Players

Before Thursday night, I had not heard Aviram Reichert perform, so when I was made aware that he was playing Thursday, October 27, at Hamilton Hall with the Colorado Chamber Players, I was anxious to attend. He performed two well-known Beethoven piano sonatas and the prodigious Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Opus 34. Aside from the fact that he won the Bronze Medal at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, some of you may be unfamiliar with all of his accomplishments. Therefore, I will quote from his website:

“Aviram Reichert – acclaimed for his deeply intelligent interpretations, phenomenal technique and ravishing tone – won the Bronze Medal at the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997. Earlier accomplishments include First Prize at the Dong-A International Piano Competition in Seoul, Korea in 1996, Grand Prix at the 1995 Epinal International Piano Competition in France, and top prizes at the 1995 International Music Competition of Japan and at the Köln (1993) and Bremen (1996) International Piano Competitions.

“Reichert is a frequent soloist with all the leading orchestras in his native country, Israel, including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Haifa Symphony Orchestra, Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. His prize-winning participation in competitions in Japan and Korea has brought him engagements for recital and concert tours in the Far East where he has been earning immense applause for more than a decade, performing in Japan with the Tokyo Philharmonic, Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra and the NHK Symphony Orchestra, and with the Daegu Symphony Orchestra of South Korea. He has also performed with the National Symphony of the Dominican Republic, the major orchestras in South Africa, and has played and recorded with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Broadcast Symphony Orchestra and the Dessau Symphony Orchestra (Germany). Conductors he has worked with include the late Sergiu Commissiona, Nicholas Cleobury, James Conlon, Peter Bay, James De Priest, Leslie Dunner, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, David Lockington, Ken-ichiro Kobayashi, Emmanuel Krivine, Meir Minsky, Kevin Rhodes, Guillermo Figueroa and Barry Wordsworth.

“In the United States he has appeared with the Spokane and Yakima Orchestras, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Symphony Orchestra, South Carolina Philharmonic, Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, West Shore Symphony Orchestra and the Music in the Mountains Festival Orchestra, amongst numerous others. The 2008 season includes performances of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Tacoma Symphony, and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on Theme of Paganini with the Springfield (MA) Symphony Orchestra.”

Mr. Reichert opened his program with the Beethoven Sonata Opus 27, Nr. 2, commonly known as the “Moonlight Sonata.” The name “Moonlight,” was, of course, not Beethoven’s nickname for this work: he had died by the time it was given. In fact, he probably would’ve been a little upset with it. It’s well-known that that name was applied by Ludwig Rellstab, who was a composer and a writer on music. He compared the first movement of this Sonata to the Moonlight scenery of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. And truly, it should be mentioned that this Sonata has nothing to do with the Rellstab’s vision. Instead it suggests contrasting feelings, and turns out to be an excellent example of the aesthetic misunderstanding of the general public.

The major difficulty with performing this opening movement is finding exactly the right tempo and the right dynamic level. If it is done too fast, it will sound mechanical. If it is drawn out too slowly, then the melody becomes difficult to follow. In addition, it has to be done very softly in the opening few bars. Both Rudolph Serkin and Emile Gilels were of the opinion that it should be started so softly that the audience is unclear as to whether the pianist has begun to play. Criticizing at a very high level, I think that Mr. Reichert began the first movement a little too fast and a little too loudly. When he first began to play, he did not seem to prepare the opening notes. It also seemed as though he was striving for the legato by use of the pedal, rather than the use of his hands. That is not to say one cannot use pedal, but in this sonata, one has to have the feeling that the keys are pushing the fingers back up, which means one’s fingers must be in constant contact with the keys.

The second movement was done beautifully by Mr. Reichert, but still, there could have been a little bit more dynamic contrast. He did it very delicately, and allowed the character of the trio to provide a darker interruption of the first section.

The last movement changes the triplets from the first movement into an obsessive arpeggiated figure with each arpeggio ending with explosive chords. It is this movement which is in true sonata form; however, Beethoven creates the same mood with all the themes, rather than use contrasting themes. Reichert performed this movement exquisitely well. Phrasing and dynamics were absolutely perfect, as was the sense of drama that Beethoven implies in this last movement. But I must say that occasionally it seemed as though Reichert was using a little too much pedal – and he has such amazing technique.

The second sonata that Aviram Reichert performed was the Sonata Nr. 21 in C major, Opus 53, known as “Waldstein.” This Sonata is the first work of Beethoven’s Second Period. At the time this was written, there was no question that he was beginning to lose his hearing, even though at this point he was far from deaf. This was also the final break with his sonata style that reflected what he had learned from Haydn, and what he had absorbed from Mozart. It is clear that he is setting out on his own in this work. It is his first difficult sonata, though not as difficult as the Opus 106 “Hammerklavier,” or the Opus 111, which is the last Sonata that he wrote. This work reflects the turbulence in his life from his increasing deafness, and the court hearings, even though they were now over, regarding the “rescue” of his nephew, Karl, from a sister-in-law whom he regarded as immoral.

Reichert’s phenomenal technique was clearly in evidence in the performance of this sonata. I am quite sure that his lack of familiarity with the acoustics in Hamilton Hall was probably responsible for his over pedaling in this work. Some of the passage work was indistinct, and individual notes could not be heard. Musically, it was absolutely beyond compare. He gave the development section the wonderfully dark cast and allowed it to go to an entirely new direction. The slow movement, which is really an introduction to the Rondo, was beautifully done. Reichert has wonderful tone, and this movement with its introspection and contemplative atmosphere, provided the vehicle for his lyricism and tone to be displayed. The third movement has some incredibly treacherous scale-like passages, but here again, Reichert had absolutely no difficulty. He gave the last movement a wonderfully celebratory aura and kept its remarkable rhythmic drive through to the end. He has such incredible fingers that in spite of occasional over pedaling, the notes could be heard. And I would like to take this opportunity to point out that when one arrives in an unfamiliar hall, it is always difficult to anticipate what the acoustics will be. There is a certain amount of safety in playing everything just the way it is done at the “home venue.” And I would also like to point out that no matter what the acoustics are like, hearing it on stage is always different from hearing it in the hall.

Following the intermission the celebrated Colorado Chamber Players joined Aviram Reichert to perform the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Opus 34 (1861). As the program notes stated, this piano quintet began life as a string quartet, and metamorphosed into a two piano sonata, and then to its final version as a piano quintet (There was an error in the program that stated this was Opus 3 and not Opus 34). The members of the Colorado Chamber Players -which surprisingly, were not listed in the program – are David Waldman, violin; Paul Primus, violin: Barbra Hamilton-Primus, artistic director and viola; and Judith McIntyre, cello. Since this ensemble is well-known in the area, I will not list a bio statement for them.

The date that this quintet emerged in its final form is 1866, and Brahms had already written two piano quartets in 1861 which, like this quintet has absolutely symphonic proportions. This piece shows Brahms at his best in realizing the interrelationship between piano and strings. This is a work of his youth, and one can still discern a little Beethoven and a little Schubert influence, but it is also clear that Brahms writes in his own voice.

This work was performed incredibly well by everyone concerned. In the first movement there was just a little bit of tempo change, and I do not confuse that with rubato. But again, that is criticizing at a very high level. The Colorado Chamber Players and Reichert performed as if they had been playing together for a very long time, rather than (what I suspect) was only two or three rehearsals. And that should be ample evidence of the musicianship of everyone on stage. It was done so well that it is hard to single out any individual; they were all equal in ability and musicianship. I certainly don’t want to take refuge in bland comment, but it is difficult reviewing a piece that has been recorded so often. It has been a very long time since I’ve heard this performed live, and this was an absolutely thrilling performance. Reichert was articulate and his phrasing was absolutely immaculate. Any criticism that I had of his playing in the two Beethoven sonatas that preceded this quintet, simply does not apply. His performance was so breathtaking, that I am tempted to say that when he performs chamber music, his playing becomes even more artistic. It is as if he was delighted in the companionship of the whole ensemble, and allowed their playing to provide inspiration to him. In addition, the Colorado Chamber Players were absolutely superb. This truly was musicmaking of a very high order. I am still marveling at their ability to perform together after so few rehearsals, and I cannot stress enough what that says about everyone’s musicianship and professionalism. It was absolutely magnificent.



David Korevaar outshines the Broomfield Symphony
October 23, 2011, 5:01 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

The Broomfield Symphony, celebrating their 30th year, opened their season Saturday, October 22, at the Broomfield Auditorium. Their opening concert featured works by Tchaikovsky, Haydn, and the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Nr. 2, with Colorado’s own world-class pianist, David Korevaar.

At the beginning of the concert, as is always the case, Concertmaster Gwen Gravagno came out on stage and nodded to the oboe to begin tuning the orchestra. This turned out to be a little more difficult than usual, because when the oboe played its pitch, it was flat. Some of the orchestra tuned to that pitch, and some did not, so when the orchestra played in unison on that pitch some were in tune, and some were not. Consequently, when Maestro David Brussel began the opening Tchaikovsky Waltz from the opera Eugene Onegin, the violins were not in tune with each other. Unfortunately, the viola section was also out of tune with each other. The woodwinds were also out of tune. It seems to me, and I have commented on this in past articles, that if one is going to learn to play an instrument, the first step is to learn how to play in tune, and to learn how to tune it. As this famous waltz progressed, it was noticeable that some members of the orchestra never looked at Maestro Brussel. Indeed, there was one young lady in the third row of the violins, sitting in the outside seat (A curious thing about the program was that the orchestra members were listed in alphabetical order, with the exception of the principals – I have never seen that done before), who never looked at Maestro Brussel. She also never moved anything but her bow arm, and that was moved only very slightly. While many members of the orchestra were making some very vigorous movements in their effort to play correct dynamics and phrasing, etc., this young lady, during the whole evening, probably only used four inches of her bow. As the evening progressed, I wondered why she even played the violin. Was she prepared? Had she practiced? Does she like music?

The orchestra’s sound was certainly adequate, but phrase endings were occasionally rough and not together. In addition the French horn section was often too loud and occasionally out of tune. So it went with the Tchaikovsky. I considered that after all, this was their first performance of the season, but it did seem like a rather shaky start.

Following the Tchaikovsky, the Broomfield Symphony performed Franz Josef Haydn’s Symphony Nr. 104 in D Major. This work was first performed May 4, 1795, with Haydn conducting. Haydn enjoyed overwhelming fame in England, and his last twelve symphonies, which were written for the London concerts, were soon played throughout Europe. There were several attempts by friends of  Haydn, including London’s leading impresario, Johann Peter Salomon, to persuade Haydn to stay permanently in England. However, the Napoleonic wars were on the horizon, and causing unsettling vibrations for everyone in Europe. Even though Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, and Prince Anton who succeeded him, had both died, Haydn decided to return to the palace at Eisenstadt, where he was reappointed Kapellmeister to the court of Prince Nicolaus II.

This work has a wonderfully dramatic introduction which gives way to the animated single main theme, which is highly developed. The second movement begins with a fairly simple theme that becomes extremely expressive as it is developed, and it is followed by the third movement which is a minuet with some very delicate woodwind playing in the trio. The main theme in the fourth movement is a Croatian folk tune (it has been identified as “Oj Jelena”) which was popular at the time in Eisenstadt, which was Haydn’s old home. This theme demonstrates some of Haydn’s skill for complex development.

Unfortunately, the orchestra did not seem to improve in this symphony. At the outset, the cellos were out of tune, and in the Exposition section, the violins began to scoop their pitches on the eighth note sections of the theme. Keep in mind that I am not a conductor, but it seems that Maestro Brussel did not have much eye contact with the orchestra throughout this Symphony. Certainly, when there were important cues, there was eye contact, but though he conducted vigorously, he seemed to keep his eyes buried in the score. I have absolutely no doubt that Maestro David Brussel is a fine horn player, teacher, and performer, but he seemed not to exude the kind of confidence one would expect from a conductor.

In the second and the third movements, the orchestra seemed to lose its balance, for some sections simply overpowered other instruments, so that it was difficult to hear counter melodies, as well as main themes. The fourth movement of this symphony suffered the same fate as the other three movements. There were still some orchestra members who moved not a muscle accept their bow arm, thus creating the impression that they had no interest in making any effort for the music whatsoever.

Following the intermission, the Broomfield Symphony joined with the pianist, David Korevaar, for the performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Nr. 2 in C minor, Opus 18. There are, of course, many reasons why this piece is so popular, not only with performing artists, but for audience members as well. It is an excellent piece. It is known so well that I don’t think it is necessary to say anything about it.

I will say that David Korevaar is a world-class pianist who teaches at CU in Boulder. We are very fortunate to have him in the vicinity so that we can hear him play as often as he does. If there are any of you who read this who do not know who he is, I will quote from his website:

“David Korevaar’s mastery of the piano is joined with a large and varied repertoire, and enhanced by his work with living composers and his own experience writing music. He successfully balances an active performing career as a soloist and chamber musician with teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he is Associate Professor of Piano.

“David Korevaar presented his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 2007, as well as his German recital debut at the Heidelberg Spring Festival. Mr. Korevaar has been heard at major venues in New York including Weill Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Town Hall, and Merkin Concert Hall. He has performed across the United States from Boston, New York and Washington, DC to Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Dallas and San Diego, and he plays frequently in his home state of Colorado with orchestras, in chamber ensembles and in solo recitals. International performances have included appearances in Australia, Japan, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Europe. Korevaar has performed as soloist with orchestras throughout the United States.

“In March 2008[,] Mr. Korevaar will embark on an artistic ambassador tour of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, where he will give recitals as well as masterclasses. The tour is under the sponsorship of the US Department of State.

“Currently a member of the Boulder Public Library’s ensemble-in-residence, the Boulder Piano Quartet (with violinist Elizabeth Kipper, violist Matthew Dane, and cellist Thomas Heinrich), and University of Texas at Dallas’s resident Clavier Trio (with violinist Arkady Fomin and cellist Jesus Castro-Balbi), Korevaar has performed as guest artist with the Takács, Manhattan and Colorado Quartets, among other groups. He was a founding member of the Young Concert Artists Award-winning piano and wind ensemble Hexagon, with which he toured for many years.”

Mr. Korevaar begin the opening unaccompanied ten measures of chords with great confidence – and why not, for he has probably played this many times. I have heard him play Rachmaninoff previously to this performance, and it is always been truly exceptional. His performance Saturday evening was also exceptional. Unfortunately, the orchestra was not so exceptional. Keep in mind that the piano lid was open, and from where I was sitting, it hid Maestro Brussel. It very soon became apparent that the orchestra was not following Mr. Korevaar however, since I could not see the conductor, I can only assume that the orchestra was not following the conductor. As the concerto progressed, it became apparent that there may have been a struggle going on between the conductor and the orchestra, but again, I state I could not see the conductor. I do know that Mr. Korevaar was looking quizzically and very often at Maestro Brussel far more often than would normally be necessary. It also became apparent that the orchestra was incapable of making any nuance that would normally follow Korevaar’s subtle phrasing. There is some oboe work in the first movement, and the oboe was having difficulty keeping a steady tempo. It kept rushing the tempo, and was having difficulty playing the correct notes, as did the violins. I am extremely familiar with this concerto, and I can vouchsafe that Mr. Korevaar was not the one at fault.

This entirely unnecessary “battle” continued to the second movement and through the third movement. It cannot be justified. David Korevaar is a consummate artist, and he has proven that many times over. It was abundantly clear that he was totally prepared for this concert, and that the Broomfield Symphony was not.

As I listened to this orchestral performance, I began to wonder if the Broomfield Symphony holds regular auditions, or if they admit orchestra members solely on the desire to play in the orchestra. Let me make it clear that there were many orchestra members who were really putting forth some effort, but there was an equal number who were not. When an orchestra is performing a concert, let alone with such a fine pianist and artist, they owe it to the artist, and to the public to do the very best they can. Based on my observation Saturday evening, there were some orchestra members who simply didn’t care, or, at the very least, had not practiced enough.

I feel that it is important to remind the orchestra that what they are doing is an art, and no art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.

I feel that it is necessary to remind the Broomfield Symphony Board of Directors that you can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that was used in creating them.




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